How do we work with the rail industry?

Listen, understand, adapt – How does One Big Circle work with the rail industry?

One Big Circle has been on an incredibly exciting journey over the past year, from rolling out our AIVR video technology to several businesses, and most recently, scooping the Small Scale Project Award at the RIIA Awards. But the success didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a culmination of listening, understanding, adapting, and lots of hard work. So, what’s the story so far? How did AIVR come about? And how did we get to where we are right now?

How it all started

If we go back to the very beginning, our One Big Circle Journey all started from highly unexpected circumstances. It was “accidental”, if you like. In 2013, myself and two other co-founders had formed a sports technology company in the video space called My Action Replay.

We’d created a sports video replay platform to enable people to capture their finest moments of their sporting matches and watch them online. It was initially a kitchen table start-up which we packed around our jobs and families.

In 2017, we were acquired by the largest digital platform for cricket at the time, based in New Zealand. But, 9 months in, the company went into receivership and all UK funding stopped.

Four of us who had been developing the tech were quite literally sat around our office wondering what an earth we were going to do.  Liking a challenge, we quickly settled on the idea of starting a technology company specialising in video and integration specialism to solve the technical challenges of people who have challenging working environments, areas we already had experience in. This was how One Big Circle was formed.

Listening, learning, asking and pitching

We dedicated the next few months to meeting, listening, learning, asking and pitching. We connected with people on LinkedIn who were talking about innovation. We presented at events. We reached out to local authorities, business services, broadcasting – we had meetings at the BBC, we approached Eurotunnel and we even looked into emergency services.

There was lots of enthusiasm, but our turning point was at Rail Live 2019. There was one particular talk at the event that really struck home with us, and that was Network Rail’s session on engaging with SMEs in their supply chain. I distinctly remember them saying they were looking for “SMEs with skin in their game” – essentially, people who had gone the extra mile to develop something beyond theoretical research which solves the challenges that rail are meeting.

Understanding the industry

In the following months, we explored the industry, attending industry events, reading the rail press and building upon our knowledge of the challenges facing the industry. It was at the end of this process that we decided it was rail we were going to focus on. From the conversations we were having, we realised that a lot of data can be collected, but there were a lot of legacy systems that were hard to access.

We heard stories about data being on hard drives and being sent on bike couriers to someone in another office. So, we went away to develop and test something we thought could solve these problems. From our experience in the sports industry, we knew that we could get data from one environment to another online via the cloud, and make that data accessible really quickly.

However, we’d never done this with moving vehicles before, so we decided to experiment and this is ultimately how AIVR (Automated Intelligent Video Review) was conceived. AIVR is a lightweight vehicle-born device that can sit inside any moving vehicle and capture video data as it goes. It instantly captures and identifies incidents and conditions to decrease safety risks and helps you to respond efficiently.

Making friends

After some intensive testing and development, we had a tangible product to work with. We went about making connections in the industry to try and get it off the ground. After Googling “rail innovation”, we stumbled upon a Rail Innovation Group start-up event. We couldn’t quite believe we’d hit on exactly what we needed – a friendly, inclusive space where a warmed crowd who already knew what to expect would listen, give feedback and help us make connections. Here we were given the opportunity to pitch.

We had some great conversations after the pitch, both with like minded SMEs who we learnt a lot from, as well a fruitful discussion with Transport for Wales. They were very excited about what we were doing and said we were talking about the things they needed. Transport for Wales spoke to the Vegetation Management Group about us, and we received a phone call the very next day asking us to talk to them in Wales. This really highlighted to us the importance of networking with the wider rail industry and the sorts of opportunities it could bring.

Gaining feedback to adapt

We were able to gain operational and commercial feedback from Transport for Wales, which was invaluable with us being complete newbies in the industry. We knew it could fit technically, but we needed to be sure it could fit commercially and operationally. We were then awarded a Recognised Innovation Scheme by Rail Innovation Group, which gave us the confidence to approach Network Rail. We were able to arrange an operational trial and demonstrate to the Signalling Innovation Group and Intelligent Infrastructure.

After implementing a four-week trial with Transport for Wales, we secured a 12-month contract to deploy AIVR across the region. We also won our first R&D contract with SIG Network Rail and collaborated with the Manufacturing Technology Centre to win one of the SBRI bids for a video system that monitors anti-social behaviour at train stations. Having this opportunity to work closely with another expert allowed us to build something which we wouldn’t have been capable of doing alone.

Next up was to participate in lots more events where we were able to obtain feedback and generate engagement with other suppliers and SMEs. In the background, we were constantly developing our AIVR capabilities. At this point, we had become quite well established and had forged good relationships. This meant that when Covid hit, we were fortunate enough to be able to carry on with what we were delivering.

Navigating Covid-19

There were, of course, challenges because people couldn’t go into the train cabs to complete cab rides or fit AIVR, so we worked really quickly with SIG to develop their external housing which could be slotted on and off the tail lamp bracket by hand at a station .

In some ways, the pandemic has boosted our scope for innovation, because it’s forced us to adapt and develop our online tools at a faster rate. At the same time, the lockdown restrictions have reduced the ability to collect data or send people out to the track, so the data generated by AIVR has proved to be invaluable.  Our relationships within the industry have evolved much faster too as we developed increasing trust, proving how well the product and the team could operate under all these new and unexpected pressures.

What we’ve learnt

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our journey into rail, it’s that collaborating and networking with our potential clients and other businesses in the industry has been absolutely imperative in allowing us to continuously develop AIVR and our expertise. There’s real value being in an environment where there are lots of innovators and SMEs – all people looking to make things safer across the board.

Our journey felt like we had a real synergy across groups. We’ve gained so many insightful pieces of feedback and friends along the way. Without them, quite frankly, we might not be where we are at today.

Going from pitching at Rail Innovation Group in October, to having a number of contracts, including with Network Rail and Transport for Wales under our belt feels pretty amazing, to say the least. It’s been a whirlwind of a journey so far, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store next.